Sustainability at the Show: Reduce, Recycle, Report


Expo, the biggest event of the year for the specialty coffee community, is a unique opportunity to model our commitment to insuring and improving coffee’s future. In 2016 we will continue hustling to make the event better than ever by both environmental and social measures, all the while recognizing the complex nature of sustainability. For example, on one hand, the greenhouse gas emissions of the jets that bring members of our community to Atlanta from around the world aren’t pretty, while on the other hand, the brainstorming that leads to new ideas and motivates us to work together to tackle climate change is best done face-to-face. Each year we seek to improve on the year before, and in 2016 we will build on successful efforts from past years as well as introducing new ways for attendees to find a place in discussions of the issues facing coffee.

Over the past few years, the Sustainability Council of the SCAA has redoubled its efforts to curate content and find compelling speakers for Expo lectures in the Sustainability track. In 2016, key issues of climate change, farm workers and cost of production (also sometimes referred to as farm profitability) will be examined, explained and explored in panel discussions and presentations from guest experts as well as familiar faces from within the industry. As usual, attendees should expect to be faced with tough choices about which lectures to attend and which to skip, and instead of bouncing from room to room in hopes of catching a bit of everything – which I have definitely tried in the past – my advice is to commit to a lecture with a topic or speaker that seems particularly interesting and to set a goal of connecting with one of the presenters at the close of the session. Additionally, by taking a moment to meet other audience members, you are likely to find others who share your interests and might offer support or insight on your sustainability journey.

To complement the intellectual and conceptual sustainability being discussed in lecture halls, conference rooms and hallways, everyone at Expo – from the largest exhibitor to the single-day visitor – will play a role in the sustainability of the event. Beginning with the registration form, which suggests a five-dollar contribution to improving the impact of the event on the community, opportunities abound to make choices that reflect a sense of responsibility to each other, the city of Atlanta and the planet. We will reduce the environmental impact of Expo by working behind the scenes with the sustainability team at the Georgia World Congress Center – the world’s largest LEED Certified convention center – to use energy and resources efficiently in general, and specifically to minimize landfill waste. Presenters and attendees play an important role in these efforts, too, by accessing information through our app and online instead of relying on printed handouts and guidebooks. Green Team volunteers stationed by waste receptacles will help attendees separate landfill waste from recyclable and compostable material, and I, for one, will be thanking and high-fiving each one of them for their patience and dedication to putting big-picture sustainability theory into everyday practice.

Finally, sustainability at Expo doesn’t end when the show floor closes on Sunday afternoon, but rather continues on as we compile data and analyze it to measure the results of our efforts. We will publish a report on our event site with detailed reports on our environmental footprint and social impact (in fact, if you’re interested in reading last year’s you can find it [here]), and use that as our starting point to make Expo, and coffee, better in 2017 and beyond.

Kim Elena Ionescu is the Director of Sustainability at the Specialty Coffee Association of America.